The Harrison Central Red Rebelettes head to Ridgeland looking for their third consecutive Class 6A state championship while West Harrison is out for a bit of revenge in 5A.
Harrison Central (26-4) takes on South Panola (24-4) at 1 p.m. Thursday in game one of the Class 6A state title series at Freedom Ridge Park.
West Harrison (19-14) will play the same team that it lost to, 11-0 and 10-0, last season in the 5A state finals, Neshoba Central, at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
The state title series will now be played over the course of three days, Thursday-Saturday, after the series were played in two days in the past.
Harrison Central topped Madison Central the last two seasons in Ridgeland to claim 6A title trophies. In South Panola, Harrison Central faces a tough opponent that has won 12 of its last 13 contests.
After being limited by a back injury early in the season, Harrison Central senior pitcher Madison Burge has been at her best of late as her team has rolled through the postseason. She is 9-1 with a 0.61 ERA in 10 starts and sophomore Kristen Cade gives the Red Rebelettes plenty of pitching depth after going 13-2 with 0.82 ERA in 18 appearances.
"I hope our pitching is something they haven't quite seen yet," Harrison Central coach Jimmy Parker said. "We're going to throw the ball a little harder than most people and I hope that's to our advantage."
Harrison Central features one of the top leadoff batters in the state in Simone McKinney, who is hitting .594 with 41 runs scored. She also has 18 stolen bases.
When McKinney gets on, junior Amari Ramsey and Burge have done a good job of bringing her home with a combined 42 RBIs.
Senior Caroline Dickins has been the ace for South Panola this season with a record of 18-2 and an ERA of 0.99. She has 188 strikeouts in 155.2 innings.
With four left-handed batters near the top of the order, South Panola likes to play small ball with plenty of slapping and bunting.
"They seem to match up pretty evenly with as far as their speed," Parker said. "Their pitching is OK. They have good pitching. They're going to know the game. They're real solid on defense."
West Harrison is hoping last year's trip to Ridgeland will provide a good learning experience despite being overwhelmed by the same Neshoba Central team a year ago.
"We've just wiped out last year," West Harrison coach Brittany Rogers said. "We went in last year just defeated, like we weren't going to make it. This year, we're trying to talk it up and compete with them."
Neshoba Central has won four consecutive state titles, but no longer features Hailey Lunderman, a supremely talented shortstop who is now starting at Ole Miss and leading the team with a batting average of .372 as a freshman.
Even with the loss of Lunderman, Neshoba Central has been a dominant squad this season with a record of 25-1. The Lady Rockets are led this season by freshman pitcher Aspen Wesley, who is 22-1 with a 0.20 ERA. She has a whopping 269 strikeouts in 141 innings this season.
"They still have that good pitcher so we know what she throws and what she goes to," Rogers said. "We've been working on that this week."
Rogers will hope the difficult schedule her team played this year will get them ready for arguably their toughest opponent yet.
West Harrison will rely on its ace, senior Stephanie Necaise, to lead the way in Ridgeland. She has a record of 14-5 and an ERA of 1.50 in 23 appearances this season.
"I'm going to rely on her because she's been my go-to pitcher since seventh grade," Rogers said. "I'm going to rely on Stephanie as long as I can."
Sun Herald reporter Patrick Ochs contributed to this report.